Women’s History Month commemorates and encourages the study, observance, and celebration of the role of women in history. There are some challenges with that for, as Gloria Steinem has noted, “Women have always been an equal part of the past. We just haven’t been a part of history.” Two authors set out to change that, at least for women in biblical interpretation, with the 2022 publication of their book Voices Long Silenced: Women Biblical Interpreters through the Centuries. The authors are Dr. Joy Schroeder, professor of church history at Trinity Lutheran Seminary and the Department of Religion and Philosophy at Capital University, and Dr. Marion Ann Taylor, professor of Old Testament at the University of Toronto.
As part of Women of the ELCA’s observance of Women’s History Month last year, I hosted a discussion with Drs. Schroeder and Taylor, just as their book was published. You can watch that hour-long discussion. One year later, I revisited the publication of Voices Long Silenced with Dr. Schroeder.
Bushkofsky: What type of reactions have you received to your scholarship?
Schroeder: Readers of all genders, but especially female readers, have been enthusiastic. Some say the book has connected them with their foremothers and with a history they never knew existed. Women who are seminary graduates say they wish that book had been available when they took their church history courses. Marion and I have been overwhelmed by everyone’s positive reactions. This was exactly what we were hoping for—that we would inspire people to learn more about the history of women who interpreted the Bible.
A few readers have said they are reading the book devotionally, a few pages at a time, for inspiration and reflection. Normally a book with that many footnotes isn’t used for daily devotions.
Bushkofsky: What has been your biggest surprise as the book was birthed and went into the world?
Schroeder: When we finalized the manuscript, we discovered that we had included over 400 women! It wasn’t until we put the chapters together that we realized just how many women we had included. A dear colleague, Maud Sandbo, compiled a spread sheet with the names of these women. We sent that spread sheet to the publisher to help the indexer compile the “Index of Names.” Typically a history book has an “Index of Names” (people) and an “Index of Subjects” (things, events, topics). When I reviewed the Index of Names before it went to press, I was alarmed: “Where are the men? I know we mentioned Thomas Aquinas and Martin Luther. Did these names accidentally get left out?” But then I learned that the person doing the indexing had created a “Names of Women Biblical Interpreters” index and that the men were included in the “Index of Subjects.” I thought it was awesome that our book could have a 400-name index devoted solely to women. That is a powerful testimony to their contributions.
Bushkofsky: Is there something from this experience that gives you hope for the future?
Schroeder: Marion and I had to do a lot of scholarly digging to find writings by women—and we sifted through lots of male-authored texts to retrieve traces and echoes of women’s stories and voices in the men’s reports. We also drew upon amazing research by other twenty-first century scholars who study women in Christian and Jewish history. Marion and I hope that others can build upon our work, discovering forgotten voices and offering new perspectives on women in religious history. It encourages me to know that our book is not the final word on the topic. It is just a beginning.
Linda Post Bushkofsky is executive director, Women of the ELCA.